Marketing spotlight: how we use tech, and how it uses us

Jill Rosenberg
September 30, 2019 · 6 min read

When it comes to technology, agile thinking is your best bet. Thought leader Jill Rosenberg shares her top tips for tapping into the potential of tech

You’re relaxing at home after a long day’s work. You’ve likely been bombarded by numerous adverts today. Maybe it’s large posters on your commute, a voice through your headphones on the podcast you’re listening to, or ads on your social media newsfeed.

You sit on your sofa, turn on your TV and lean back.

Another ad rolls and a voice asks: “OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?”

Your Google Home speakers kick into action and reel off the Wikipedia definition of the Whopper burger, whether you had a particular interest in it or not.

Sound futuristic? Not if you’re Burger King, who launched the clever, but controversial, home speaker hijack stunt in 2017.

Voice activation is just one way in which marketing is constantly changing thanks to innovations in digital technology.

As our world of digital tech evolves and becomes ever more sophisticated, there are undoubtedly tremendous opportunities for growth, and space for innovation. But there are threats and complexities to navigate too.

Opportunities and threats

Alexa, Siri, Google Home: voice-activated technology is no longer a newcomer to the scene. Not only are these players household names, but they’re also integral parts of many households around the world.

Emarketer estimates that 111.8 million people will use a voice assistant at least monthly this year.

And yet, we’re only really at the beginning in terms of the opportunities that this kind of technology offers. There is no doubt that voice search will become one of the major innovations of the next decade.

We can already control many elements within our home and search for things like directions using voice, but the next step will be for brands to establish how they will utilize this technology to influence consumer behavior.

Big brands like Procter & Gamble and Unilever are big for a reason. They’re excellent at making sure that their products are at the forefront of customers’ minds when they’re looking for a trusted brand to guide their buying choices.

They’ll be seeking ways to maintain this as users turn to voice search.

But the flip side of the rich opportunities for creativity and innovation is that smaller brands can also display their agility and cleverly harness this technology too.

Let’s take a look at BBC Good Food. What does your home cooking experience look like? Greasy phone screens and splattered pages of recipe books? BBC Good Food recognized that voice search could revolutionize the way people seek and follow recipes at home. They were also facing losing out on market share as voice search started to take off; when users asked Alexa for a recipe for chocolate cake, for example, brands risked losing control over their recipe being picked by Alexa.

The UK’s no. 1 food media brand across print, digital and live, BBC Good Food faced several major challenges. With 11,000 recipes, they needed a way of funneling users to the recipe they wanted, and fast. Their recipes were visually enticing, with clear instructions for a reader – but they didn’t translate to sound-only effectively. They also needed to be able to monetize their voice search recipes; while their digital and print versions relied on selling advertising space, this was a challenge for voice search.

They embarked on a thorough analysis of what it was those home cooks wanted from voice search recipes, completely overhauled and optimized their recipe archives for voice search, and took their results one step further by integrating smart appliances. One feature included Alexa offering your healthy recipes based on the real-time contents of your fridge. A little scary? Maybe. Incredibly useful? Definitely.

How can brands utilize innovative technology to increase their market share?


Top tip: Meet your customers where they are

When are customers most likely to purchase on their mobile? It could be on their commute.

Surprised? Conventional wisdom suggests that standing upright in a crowded train while having your elbow jostled by a stranger doesn’t make for the most appealing shopping environment.

But Anindya Ghose, professor of information, operation and management sciences and marketing at New York University, debunks this myth in his book Tap: Unlocking the mobile economy.

In fact, Ghose found that the more crowded the environment, the more likely people were to respond to deals and offers on their mobile phones.

There is a caveat though. Although Ghose found that a crowded environment made for an increased likelihood of purchase, we also know that customers are more likely to return items impulsively bought on their mobiles.

So how can brands find that sweet spot?

Practical tips: 

  • Carefully consider how to adapt to new behavior and creative technology. The best strategies will always be a combination of effective data use and gut instinct on consumer behavior

  • Stay on top of the research, and make sure you’re using the insights. This should feed into your promotions, product search and return policies

  • Consider when theory and practice come into play.

Social media

Top tip: Be outward-looking, jump on trends and be agile

Think your social media is just about you? Think again. Check out this move from ASOS, which saw them hijack some bad press EasyJet were receiving to generate some great press for themselves.

EasyJet found themselves a target for criticism when a passenger posted a photo of a row of seats on one of their planes with the backs removed, and a passenger sitting in them.

The travel company proceeded to give a masterclass in how not to do social media when they asked the customer to take it down (bad move, EasyJet).

An eagle-eyed member of the social media team at ASOS spotted a marketing opportunity and jumped in with the following Tweet:

Their swift, witty action meant the Tweet got liked 1.2k times, and some free press coverage too, praising their move.

The lesson? Don’t just look to your social media feed. Look outwards. You might just stumble across your next big opportunity for viral content on someone else’s feed.

Practical tips for marketers:

  • Listen to your customers. Don’t try to shut them down as EasyJet did. Be in tune with what they want and need from you

  • Stay on top of trending themes – and use them to your advantage

  • Consider how you set up your team – small and agile wins the day when it comes to jumping on news or trends.

Voice-activated technology

Top tip: Be playful, push boundaries, make the first move

Back to that Burger King story we started with.

How did the idea come about? With a bold plan to manipulate time itself.

Burger King’s Head of Global Branding, Fernando Merchado received a phone call from a creative agency, proposing to create “the longest 15-second TV commercial in history.”

Intrigued, Merchado gave the go-ahead, and the clever ad, which saw Google Home speakers across the US describe the product, therefore sidestepping the 15-second limit on TV commercials.

The whole thing was a stunt. And after a short round of wrangling between the two organizations where Google blocked the voice in the ad and Burger King re-recorded it, the ad was pulled. Short shelf-life, but huge talkability. The job was done.

Practical tips:

  • Don’t guess. Everyone has habits. Create your customer profiles and target their behavioural likes and dislikes

  • Consider using voice as a brand-building exercise

  • Always experiment. Utilize rapid prototyping, testing and improving.

The biggest lesson of all

You don’t need to be a big player to play hard with innovation. Be agile, clever, creative and stay on top of the latest trends, and you can make a big splash harnessing technology’s latest innovations.

About the author
Jill Rosenberg
Jill Rosenberg

Jill Rosenberg is an award-winning creative director, strategist and producer based in Toronto, Canada.

She is co-founder of Idea Central, a digital, emerging technology and content focused marketing agency. The team at Idea Central has developed campaigns and projects for a VR travel application, mobile games, e-learning, mobile learning and content driven marketing for companies such as Emirates Airlines, SkyCargo, Philips, Airbus, Mizuno and the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC).

Jill is a speaker and presenter and regularly conducts workshops on digital and social media. She is a subject matter expert for Nexford and has contributed to the development of the marketing and digital curriculums, along with writing courses for those programs. Find out more about Jill at

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